This is a series in which I will try and attempt to chronicle the lives of people who’ve influenced my life in some way or the other!
 
Shankari Ammal or simply, Paati
For a long, long, time, I didn’t know her name. We just called her Paati, because that’s who she was! Having never known my real grandmothers (my paternal one died before I was born and the maternal when I was four years old), paati was grandmother to us in every sense. She was Appa’s maternal aunt (periamma) and the oldest in the family.

Paati  was widowed at an early age, childless and shorn of everything that made her a woman. As was the cruel and barbaric custom prevalent among Tam Brahms then, her head was shaved, she wore a saffron saree without a blouse and that’s how I remember her always. She also wore no jewellery on her body except a ‘rudraksha’ malai.

She was small and petite but no one went by her looks. She had the authority and used it to great effect, even in our family long after her sister passed away. And in authority, I mean taking a stand when needed and keeping the family together during trying times.

Paati  mostly stayed in Kallidaikurichi (Tamil Nadu) with her brother and family and later with her nephew. But she would rush to Cochin, and to us, whenever there was a happy or sad occasion. Or we’d send a telegram whenever we felt her presence was required to take charge of things.

I remember paati fondly because she stayed with us for a considerable amount of time when my mother was unwell. We’d wake up to the rich aroma of parippu undai kuzhambu and keerai masiyal boiling on the stove. She’d make us rich, creamy filter coffee but for herself, she’d dilute the milk beyond recognition. When Appa chided her, she’d just smile and say that’s the way she liked it! When paati was around, we’d just pile on the pounds, for she’d make us eat and eat and eat! Yeah, she’d so lovingly feed the dog, that one day out of affection the dog bit her and paati had to go through a painful course of 14 injections!

Saturday mornings were a nightmare when paati was around. My brother and I were subjected to the weekly oil bath routine when almost a litre of warm til oil would be rubbed on our bodies despite our objections. And then she’d give the both of us baths, with shikakai powder. My treatment extended further because of my long hair. She made sure it was ‘well-oiled’ and plaited always. She frowned if even a strand attempted to cut loose! I would not breathe a word, not because I was scared, but I loved having her around and she was the only grandmother I had!

Having paati in Cochin was like floating in an ocean of unconditional love. Everyone was the recipient of her largesse, the servants, neighbours and even my friends. You’d think coming from a small village and having had very little education, she’d be backward in her ways! But it was not so! She would take pride in our little achievements and successes and always stressed that education was important, whether you were a boy or a girl.

After spending some time in Cochin, she’d itch to go back to Kallidai to her brother’s family. Sometimes she went alone, at other times, her neighbour and almost-like-a-son Manikantan anna would accompany her on those long bus rides. She did the Kallidai-Cochin routine till she became old and could not move out of her ancestral home.

I last saw Paati in 1997 when I went to attend a function in Kallidai. She was very, very old and memory had failed her though she remembered Appa. That’s the last memory I have of her, shrivelled in age but happy having her doting family around her.

Her nephews and her little grand nephews cared for her in every way till her death. She lived beyond 100, enriching the lives of everyone, strengthening bonds between families that continue to this day. In her grand nephews and other members of the family and in some ways, in me, I see her strength, her affection and the values she stood for…

Shankari Ammal, your love lives on…

 

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24 thoughts on “Ordinary Lives. Extra-ordinary Influences

  1. hi rekha
    every post on this blog of yours takes me yonder with you to return feeling truly warm and blessed. your writing skill keeps amazing me. and many a times i have wondered at this miracle called ‘one’ which i keep seeing all the time thru the eyes of richard bach. somehow, somewhere a link is established and i am stunned at the beauty of our kind that somehow manages to replicate memories thru characters that seem so very your own.
    keep those pennants flying high rekha. enjoyed this one 🙂

  2. it was worth something akka, which can never be felt or seen these days.every letter touched my heart, invoked lost memories. i really appreciate what you have wrote,… its a beautiful homage.

  3. Wow! Rekha, excellent narration, really moved. I have seen such paati’s in Tam Brahm families, but this one ….you brought everything alive and made us see, feel the affection…..to put it simple EXCELLENT…keep writing.

    PS: Is this Kalladaickuruchi(near Ambasamudram) in Tirunelveli? I have been to that village in 2001…to do a story about their ‘Appalams’

  4. Very touching article and who can forget the help she has rendered to our family.
    I can feel the emotion inside me and let’s savour the memories of her for a long time.

    1. Rekha – Thanks for the post. Yday was Athai’s Anniversary in India. This is nostalgia hearing those words “Kannu” (it how she calls me) and “Raja” (It is how she calls my brother) and few others which she uses often are ” Thekkemodaom, Kavu, Mani, Ramachandran, Rajamani, Chuppu, thiruponathorai” etc.. and blesses kindly everyone ” Ayisoda nanna irukkanum” Padichu pharst (First) class la pass pannaum”she was able to connect the two ends of the family and Great soul indeed..

      1. thanks rahul. i remember all these very well! she was the most self-less person i’ve known who endeared herself to all with the abundance of love. as you put it so well, she is the reason why we are all still connected, two generations down the line!

  5. 🙂 i agree with Mrudu. You must begin writing a novel. You can dedicate it to us 😉 for encouraging you to write. That is all the 15 seconds of fame, I am looking for.

  6. you are blessed with the ability to write so beautifully that you can capture the entire essence of the whole scene. We as readers are able to have a picture of what goes on when paati came..superb writing Rekha. God bless you always and we can reap the rewards by visiting your site and winding down..:)

    1. thanks vidya! hope i’ll be able to include more people in this series. the hardest part is doing it without getting your eyes moist… because they really mean a lot!

  7. Really wonderful piece! The self-effacing character of the paati truly comes out. And for me, it brings forth the memory of my paatti and we called her ” Akka Paati”. I am now wanting to write one like this about her. Maybe will do it soon.

    Narayanan

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